A deadly pestilence is on our town, strikes us and spares not… – Sophocles, Oedipus Rex

#Covid19 #domesticviolence #childabuse #mentalhealth

Most of us are struggling right now, doing our best to sort through the stresses of the American mortality numbers, massive change in the economy, the loss of personal contact with family and friends, the inability to do the simple things one does that makes life enjoyable- dinner out, a movie, the gym.  Now we have isolation.  Our life styles have taken a huge turn.  And at the same time, the question of our own mortality has become present.  Bottom line— we question how much control we really have over our lives.  Depending on our fiscal and social arrangements, this may range from an uneasy time to a frightening loss of control.  

We are confined, for our own good.  If that place is mostly kind and caring, we can flourish.  If not…  Here is the one situation where I could agree with the infamous Sartre quote – ‘Hell is other people.’  His play, No Exit, is about three people trapped in a room together, with no escape.  Buñuel, in his 1962 film, went after the same notion in The Exterminating Angel.  His was a more satirical look—  Upper class diner party goers cannot escape their mansion and descend to their worst.

I’m not sure how much control we have anyway, but most of us had a sense that we had some control.  Much of that has been vanquished.  There are a lot of ways to react to this loss of power in our lives:  depression, anxiety, rage, insomnia, numbing by alcohol and drug use, trying to get control of others.  Some work for positive social change while others move toward spiritual, aesthetic, or intellectual pursuits.  Some garden, others build stuff.

Let’s take a look at the worst case reactions to this loss, and take a shot at possible remedies.

“We know lockdowns and quarantines are essential to suppressing COVID-19, but they can trap women with abusive partners. Over the past weeks, as the economic and social pressures and fear have grown, we have seen a horrifying surge in domestic violence.”

—United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres

The numbers of reported cases of domestic violence have risen.  I would argue this is a result of the loss of control, the loss of power.  Rape is about power, not sex.  Domestic violence is about control, not aggression.  Aggression is the means to that end.  Violence increases as one feels the loss of control.  I can’t control what is happening to me, but I can control her, which, I think, will make me feel better.  The mitigating factor in family violence is openness— other folks influence the family systems, help lower the level of tension, allow the potential ‘victim’ an out.  And now, in this time of shelter-in-place, there seems to be no escape. Hence, ‘Hell is other people.’

It comes down to how we deal with the loss of control over our lives.  One could make a case that we don’t have that much power anyway.  We just delude ourselves intro thinking we do.  Our brains make choices and we act, then think we made a conscious choice.  Or we believe we got where we did by our own hard work, forgetting parental bucks, government loans, etc.  

So on one hand we have the perception of loss of power and on the other we have the actual loss of power of economics, friendships, and sites to relieve stresses.  Add on the feeling of being trapped.  Add on the inability of the vulnerable to escape due to shelter-in-place, the concern that shelters may not be safe from the virus, and the looming loss of government revenue to support social services.   The one who has lost power has power reinforced by the limiting conditions of the vulnerable partner, child.  The children aren’t in school where a thoughtful teacher can notice and report to Child Protective Services.  

A perfect storm:

1. He feels the loss of power of having some semblance of control over his life.

2.  He believes his behavior will have no consequences.

3.  He asserts his will for control with psychological and/or violent means

4.  She and the children have no escape

5. Repeat

While, by far, most of this is gender-based, the male attacks the female, it can be the reverse and or male/male, or female/female.  We are also seeing a rise in elder abuse.  The trapped victim reactions can range from depression to suicidal ideas, from psychological numbness to physical symptoms.  No Exit.  The abuser’s psychology can range from a reasonably healthy but fragile personality to the personality disordered (narcissistic, borderline, or psychopathic).

What to do if you are under attack:

1.  Acknowledge that this is not going to change unless you take action.  

2. Find out what the resources are: a local battered women’s shelter or domestic violence hotline. 

3.  Strategize: talk with a trusted friend or family member, contact the local resources, plan an exit.

Then be prepared— if you or your children are in danger, call the police.  

The one who psychologically or physically strikes out has options, also.  In fact, they are basically the same as your partner’s: acknowledgement, find resources, strategize.  This disaster is avoidable.  There is an extremely interesting program in Mexico called ‘Gendes.’  They have had to shut done their in person services since the onset of the pandemic.  They’ve established a hot line.  Every day they get a call that begins:  “I’m calling because I don’t want to hit her.”  They are re-invisioning ‘machismo’ by supporting the positives of it (caring, protection) and inhibiting the negatives (possessiveness, controlling behavior).  You too can call a hot line.  You can read ”Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.”  You can face your vulnerability.

Yes, there is a deadly pestilence in on our town.  Though mostly hidden, it is as awful as the pandemic.  It is violence against the trapped vulnerable.


National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224

Every county has a domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse hot line.

All of us have lost much control over our lives.  How does one go forward?

1.     Take it one day at a time:  The situation is fluid.  We’ve got today.  

2.    Serenity prayer: 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

courage to change the things I can, 

and wisdom to know the difference.

3.    Micro change: when faced with a new client who is overwhelmed, therapists frequently suggest looking for the smallest step one can take. 

4.   Social action:  where can you put some time, energy, cash into something postive?

5.  Gratitude:    You are alive.  A great Roman playwright, born a slave, wrote: “Where’s there is life, there is hope.”

Go easy, folks

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